We finally did it.
Everyone has someone in their lives who made them into the Oilers fan they are today. Maybe it was your parents plopping you down in front of the TV to watch Hockey Night In Canada. Maybe it was a sibling who would trade hockey cards with you on a wintery night as you listened to the game on the radio. No matter who you are and where you are from every fan of every team can point to someone and say “they made me like this.”
For me it was my Grandma who used to let me stay up late and listen to Rod Phillips while we played rummy at her kitchen table. She wasn’t a big fan of remembering the 80s Oilers – in fact I can’t remember her ever mentioning “things were way better back when.” We started following the Oilers together in the early 90s – it wasn’t a great team then but she found a silver lining in every loss, and a new hero with every win. I’d regularly call her on the phone – feeling very grown up as I recall – to talk hockey and she would always patiently listen to me recap the entire game and remember all the thrills from the night before.
By the age of 12 the Oilers were seemingly leaving town. Every night brought new worries – one day it was Seattle, the next they were moving to Atlanta and Pocklington had a deal in his back pocket to sell the team. Beyond freaked out I asked my Grandma what to do and she wisely suggested “well they need to sell more tickets. Maybe we need to get season seats to help the team stay. We can all do our part.”
At 12 years old buying season tickets might as well have been buying the space shuttle but I ran to all my neighbour’s houses demanding snow shoveling contracts. I would shovel snow every day it seemed and send all my hard earned dollars the Oilers way and bought a single seat to the games and my Grandma bought the other. We were the most unlikely season seat holders, one just some kid funding the operation from snow shoveling and the other an elderly lady paying from her pension but we found a way to make it work.
For three great years my Grandma and I attended every single game but a handful. We witnessed some great seasons and some truly awful squads but it was one of the greatest times of my life. She would have been in her late 80s at the time and almost completely blind, but she would dutifully bundle up and bring her “trusty radio” and we would make our way to the games early so we could ride the freight elevator up to our seats in the nosebleeds. From our perch high up above we would live and die with every move on the ice below.
Fast forward to the 2006 Cup Run. Grandma was still alive but had moved into a Senior’s care facility and gradually her world got smaller and smaller until she was in bed most of the day. But even then, completely blind by now and in her mid 90s she would still listen to all the games on her trusty radio. The Cup Run was a thrill for us all but also certainly the last big thrill in her amazing life and she listened to every game in that wonderful spring.
When the Oilers lost in Game 7 your ol pal Wanye became completely unglued. I am entirely unashamed to say that I cried for the first time since Grade 6 and bawled so hard my girlfriend at the time who broke up with me that night because “honestly who gets that upset about hockey.” It was truly one of the worst nights ever. When I had been able to compose myself a few days later I went to visit my Grandma.
“Oh never mind that.” She told me in a calm voice. “They are such a great team, I just know they will be back in the playoffs soon and will win the Cup. You have to have hope, Hope must Never Die.”
My Grandma passed away in 2008 at the age of 99. She didn’t ever get to see another Oilers playoff game of course, but her super fandom for the Oilers had been completely passed to me by this point. It was that bond that made me into a crazy person, that crazy person led to OilersNation being founded and gave me a way to get through a decade of darkness with my fandom unscathed.
It’s hard to put a finger on the lowest point of the decade of darkness. Just when we thought the team had turned the corner it turned out that nothing had changed and the losses piled up to the moon. Oilers were paid millions upon millions of dollars to play for the greatest team in the world and year after year they fell short. Due to a lack of skill, a lack of heart and certainly a lack of sense by the powers that be the team could not find its way.
Back through the mud the City of Edmonton got dragged. ‘No one wants to play in Edmonton it is a dump and I heard that the food court in Edmonton Centre just lost it’s A&W’ Dark days had fallen upon us.
I think the lowest of the lowest of the low points came in 2013 and was seemingly commemorated in a dark article I pumped out here. Four short years later it amazes me that we had the hilarious stubbornness to pick that day to launch the Hope Will Never Die line of tee shirts, but that’s the best thing about hope. You decide to keep it alive, no matter what is going on you can always keep hope alive.
It took a decade but the Oilers have finally climbed back into the playoffs. Connor McDavid arrived like a bolt from the heavens and has dragged this franchise back to respectability in record time. You can’t possibly enjoy how sweet this is unless you have been eating glass along with the OilersNation for the past 10 years, turning off the TV in sadness on too many nights and going to bed early to dream of better days.
Maybe my 2006 girlfriend was right. Maybe a normal person wouldn’t get so upset about losing a hockey game that they cried 97% of the water in their body out. But you can’t always explain why things matter so much in life, except that they do.
I hope that there are portable radios in heaven and my Grandma gets to listen to the games. Scratch that, I hope they fixed her eyes in heaven and she watches the games on a 500 inch flat screen with the Notorious BIG and Winston Churchill, explaining the nuances of the game and how every Oiler is a hero like she did to me so long ago. She must be so jacked for Connor McDavid – I can imagine her exclaiming “oh he is a lovely boy! We are so lucky to have him here – he is one of the greats.”
It took a decade but we hung in through the dark times and now the Oilers are back in the playoffs. Even better than just squeaking in we have Connor McDavid and a billionaire owner who shook off the haters and built the nicest arena in the league. We don’t stay awake at night worrying he will one day have to leave because we can’t afford for him to stay.
Things couldn’t have turned out better even though it didn’t seem like it ever would. We are back in the dance and who knows where it will go from here.
On this glorious day let’s not only congratulate ourselves for sticking with a team that didn’t deserve it on most nights. Let’s also remember the hard core Oilers fans who we lost during the last 10 years who don’t get to see the glorious rebirth of the team we all love so much. There are going to be a lot of people cheering along with us from up above and we will cheers them from wherever we will be watching the games.
Grandma I took the passion you gave me for the team and kept the flame burning as best as I could until the good times returned.
We took your advice – Hope never died.